When Meryl Streep was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award at last weekend’s Golden Globes she decided to use her acceptance speech as a platform to endorse diversity and to criticize President-elect Donald Trump for playing to the worst elements of his base.
She led off by describing the diverse backgrounds of various actors in the crowd, illustrating how “Hollywood” isn’t a place people come from– it is made up of people from all over the world converge on for the purpose of entertaining us by telling stories that resonate with all sorts of aspects of our humanity. Then Streep turned to our soon-to-be Commander-in-Chief. Namely, she highlighted how ugly and damaging it is for people to debase those with less economic, political, and cultural power, using Trump’s infamous mocking of a disabled reporter as her example. Obstensively, Streep was using this moment as a call to arms for defending a free press against the punitive power of a vindictive and authoritarian political leader. This is a fundamental principle of American life and an attitude traditionally shared by those on both sides of our political spectrum. As you may have noticed, we no longer live in such a world. The right wing outrage machine was having none of it. For them, this was just more proof of how out of touch “the Hollywood elites” are with REAL AMERICA. Meghan McCain and Tomi Lahren led the charge on social media to lambast Streep for her remarks.
There is a lot to unpack here. First, despite Trump’s many claims that he did not mock Serge F. Kovaleski, he undeniably did. His sycophants and apologists only defense seems to be “well he mocked Ted Cruz, a general, and a bank president in similar ways so it couldn’t have been about his disability.” No one denies that he mocked him, they simply split hairs over what precisely Trump was mocking him for. That is a piss-poor excuse and still amounts to the kind of immoral behavior that has normally been considered disqualifying the candidate in the past. Calling him out for this is hardly partisan politics– it is a call for basic human decency.
I’m more interested in the narrative that this speech shows how out of touch liberals are with “Real Americans.” What does “Hollywood” not get in Meryl Streep’s speech? Neither McCain or Lahren bother to spell out what the disconnect is between their imaginary cabal of liberals/communists/Hollywood/academia and everything else they view as not part of Real America and the good folks who make up their tribe. But you don’t have to squint very hard to see what they are implying. Conservative voters are sick of being lectured to. They don’t want to hear that it is mean to ridicule people. They don’t want to be told that they can’t call a woman a “nigger” in a restaurant they own. Or when they push a girl to the ground on a campus sidewalk. Or that whites are also capable of monstrous behavior, such as violently sexually assaulting a black disabled teammate on a football team in Idaho. No, conservative America is sick of hearing about how they have to treat other people with respect as full citizens under the law regardless of race, gender identification, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality. And until the left understands this, Trump and other bigoted white nationalist politicians will keep winning. It is time to Make America Great Again by returning power to the hands of the Real Americans.
This is how your aruguement sounds to me. Feel free to tell me what I am missing.
The bigger question seems to be “who are the Real Americans?”
Conservatives have been peddling the Real Americans narrative for a long time. Nixon had his Silent Majority. Reagan gave them a voice. Trump turned that voice into a full-throated, rage-filled scream. The composition of the group never changed. Real Americans are white conservatives. They believe in evangelical Christianity. They love guns. They think racism is an excuse minorities make to justify laziness (and liberals use to control them). They think women and men should have different and well-defined roles in society. They think homosexuality is immoral and should be condemned. They think Muslims are a threat to America. They think Mexican immigrants steal our jobs and dilute our culture. They think all of these things are being taken from them by liberals, Hollywood, and their legions of enemies.
Nixon told white America that they didn’t have to accept blacks as their equals (and the Religious right fought tooth and nail to make sure this played out in day-to-day life). Conservative media has spent the better part of the last 20 years telling their consumers that they were losing their country to gays, Muslims, Mexicans, black people, Hollywood, academia, and all the other surrogates for liberalism. These people are not Real Americans. They don’t drink Bud Light and watch football like we do (they do). They don’t work hard like we do (tell that to immigrants I’ve seen busting their asses on warehouse floors and farms). They don’t have faith like we do (false). The enemies of Real America are lurking everywhere. And they are all liberals.
One of the benefits of using such a sloppy definition of “liberal” or Real American is that they can build strawmen out of any one of these caricatures. Is there a discussion about gun control? Liberals are gun hating pansies from the coasts. LGBTQ rights? Liberals are godless big government types. Protests over police violence? Race-baiters who hate cops. Protests over speakers you don’t want on the campus where you work or study? Whiny, safe-space ivory tower types who hate free speech. There is a ready-made character for every instance. And none of them are Real Americans.
Meghan and Tomi tell me that I have to learn to speak to the Real Americans. I already am. I acknowledge their struggles. I vote for policies that help them. I’m not unaware of your white Real America– I was born, raised, and educated deeply in it. I won’t be accepting your definition of Real American. It simply doesn’t work. Instead, I suggest they consider thinking about Real Americans in larger, more representative ways. Or they will watch themselves discarded into the dustbin of history, as the last ugly vestiges of our unchallenged white supremacist system.
Who are the Real Americans?
Even Hulk Hogan and the Wrestling Boot Band knew this mantle belonged to people of every race and creed.